Greenpeace chief Kumi Naidoo on Friday likened Japan's treatment of two of its anti-whaling activists to the tactics of the former apartheid regime he once campaigned against in his native South Africa.
The activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, face possible jail terms Monday for stealing a box of whale meat, which they later presented to media and authorities as proof of embezzlement in the state-run whaling program.
Naidoo, at a Tokyo news conference, condemned Japanese police for keeping the two activists in detention for 26 days after their arrests, during which they were interrogated without lawyers present while strapped to their chairs.
"It makes me very, very sad to hear about the ordeal that Junichi and Toru have been through for standing up for justice and democracy and against corruption," said Naidoo, Greenpeace's international executive director.
The way they were treated after their high-profile arrests more than two years ago "reminds me of the way that the apartheid system treated those that tried to oppose it," said Naidoo, a former anti-apartheid activist.
The two Greenpeace activists say they stole the box from a transport company depot after a tip-off from a whistleblower within the whaling program who said whale meat was being illegally shipped to crew members' homes.
"What are the moral choices that Junichi and Toru had when somebody deep within the whaling system contacted them and told them about corruption? They could have said 'we will do nothing about it,'" said Naidoo.
"But they responded to the moral courage of the whistleblower on the whaling ship in the way that was appropriate, which was to investigate, to find out more, and to take the evidence to the Tokyo Prosecutors Office."
Sato, speaking at the same news conference, said the whistleblower had approached Greenpeace after the Japanese media had failed to report on his claim that "this embezzlement has continued for more than 20 years."
"I hope that the court ruling will refer to journalists' and activists' right to pursue any injustice and to the citizens' rights to know," he said. "I'll be disappointed if the ruling doesn't mention those rights at all."
Suzuki pointed out that state prosecutors had dropped the original whale meat embezzlement investigation on the same day that more than 70 officers raided his and Sato's homes as well as Greenpeace's Tokyo office.
Prosecutors "are aiming to create a chilling effect against those who oppose a national policy," Suzuki said, also telling the journalists: "I'd like you to consider this as something that could happen to you one day."